On Friday, I wrote an item ("The 3-Word Phrase That Signals Obama's Intentions on Taxes") about how a number of Democrats on the Hill were relieved to hear President Obama say, in his recent budget speech, that it was necessary to raise taxes on "millionaires and billionaires"--relieved because many of them worried he had drifted too far to the right, and might no longer be committed to tax increases on the wealthy as a way to trim the national debt. Hearing Obama invoke "millionaires and billionaires" was understood by these Democrats to be a signal (or a dog-whistle, if you prefer) that he wasn't backing down: polls show that the public is most receptive to raising taxes when the issue is framed this way, so Obama was signaling that he means business. That doesn't guarantee he'll follow through; he used the phrase plenty last year, and still signed a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans (which he'd opposed) and everyone else (which he'd supported). But it's a clear sign of where he stands today. And the phrase, along with all the apprehension surrounding it, provides an interesting glimpse at the tensions between Democrats over raising taxes.
Judging from the comments and emails that piled up over the weekend, most people didn't read the item that way. In fact, I can draw two conclusions: First, a lot of people spent Easter weekend in a spirit other than that of Christian fellowship and goodwill toward men. Second, a lot of them seem to think that they're the ones being persecuted, that by seeking to increase taxes on the wealthy Obama is engaging in--gasp!--"class warfare." I've always loved that phrase because it's such potent hyperbole, the product of expensive focus grouping and crafty political wordsmithery as surely as is the phrase "millionaires and billionaires," except "class warfare" has that extra dimension of apocalyptic consequence and the undertone of victimization that work so well together even though they shouldn't, like sweet-and-sour soup.
But I gather few others share my connoisseur's appreciation. Most of my correspondents appear to take the phrase literally and believe they are being unfairly and maliciously attacked. I'd guess that by and large they're not millionaires or billionaires themselves. Instead, most display the same anguished indignation that got University of Chicago professor Todd Henderson into such trouble after he worked himself into a lather about how unfair it was that he--a mere university professor scraping by on an income of several hundred thousand dollars a year--might be expected to chip in a bit more. Here's a representative example from my in box:
As a journalist, why don't you ask the obvious question about what makes a married couple earning $250,000 per year a millionaire or a billionaire?
Is it that political demagoguery from a Democrat is more palatable than from a Republican?
Obama is being cynical and dishonest and the mainstream political press is his willing accomplice.
This sort of thinking always makes me want to haul out my fainting couch. Because crying "demagoguery" and "class warfare," and really meaning it, is just silly.
Politics is and always has been a competition between different classes and interest groups for finite government resources. Everybody harnesses their best argument for growing or defending their slice of the pie, whether it's "millionaires and billionaires" or "welfare queens." And it's worth noting that millionaires and billionaires have fared particularly well relative to other groups. According to the IRS, the average federal income tax rate for the richest Americans dropped from 26 percent in 1992 to 17 percent in 2007, the most recent data available. So if you're inclined to think in terms of "warfare," which I'm not, it's clear who's been winning the war.
To address the question above, married couples who make $250,000 a year or more--the line at which Obama would raise taxes--are not millionaires or billionaires. (I'm no math whiz, but I'd have thought this obvious.) By any reasonable definition, though, they're still rich: income-wise, they rank in the top 2.5 percent of American households. Maybe it's residual Easter spirit, but I suppose that, if pressed, I could muster a smidgen more sympathy for the Todd Hendersons of the world than for the yacht owners and mansion-dwellers. But they're still far better off than most people, so it's hard to feel bad for them.
Here's the other thing: While the type of people writing in reflexively view any prospective increase in their tax rates as "class warfare," they don't apply that label to other attempts to reapportion resources--even radical ones, like Paul Ryan's budget, which is now the official position of House Republicans. If Obama's desire to nudge up tax rates on the wealthy is class warfare against the rich, then surely Paul Ryan's plan to shift the burden of growing healthcare costs from government to citizens by privatizing Medicare and block-granting Medicaid is class warfare against the poor and middle class. Strange that none of my correspondents pointed this out!
But as I said, I think the whole thing is silly. Let's stop hyperventilating about "class warfare" and call it by its proper name: politics.
Thicker ink, fewer smudges, and more strained hands: an Object Lesson
Recently, Bic launched acampaign to “save handwriting.” Named “Fight for Your Write,” it includes a pledge to “encourage the act of handwriting” in the pledge-taker’s home and community, and emphasizes putting more of the company’s ballpoints into classrooms.
As a teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could think there’s a shortage. I find ballpoint pens all over the place: on classroom floors, behind desks. Dozens of castaways collect in cups on every teacher’s desk. They’re so ubiquitous that the word “ballpoint” is rarely used; they’re just “pens.” But despite its popularity, the ballpoint pen is relatively new in the history of handwriting, and its influence on popular handwriting is more complicated than the Bic campaign would imply.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The new drama series, which follows the Colombian kingpin’s rise to power, feels more like a well-researched documentary than the gripping saga it wants to be.
Netflix’s new series Narcos is possibly arriving at the wrong time: The doldrums of summer aren’t really the ideal moment for a narratively dense, documentary-like look at the rise and fall of the Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Narrated in voiceover by DEA Agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), the early hours of Narcos feel like a history lesson, though an visually sumptuous one.
As Netflix continues to expand its streaming empire, it’s making a concerted effort to appeal to worldwide audiences, and Narcos fits neatly into that plan, alongside last year’s expensive critical flop Marco Polo. Narcos was shot on location in Colombia and stars the acclaimed Brazilian actor Wagner Moura as Escobar. It takes full advantage of its setting, loaded with sweeping helicopter shots of the Colombian jungle where Escobar founded his cocaine empire, filling a power vacuum left by various political upheavals in late-’70s South America.
Wine snobs, string quartets, and the limits of intuition
Several months ago, this author sat at a classical music concert, trying to convince himself that wine is not bullshit.
That may seem like a strange thought to have while listening to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major. But Priceonomics had recently posted an article investigating The Price of Wine, part of which reviewed research that cast doubt on both consumers’ and wine experts’ ability to distinguish between quality wine and table wine or identify different wines and their flavors. It seemed a slippery slope to the conclusion that wine culture is nothing more than actors performing a snobbish play.
Listening to an accomplished musician while lacking any musical experience resulted in a feeling familiar to casual wine drinkers imbibing an expensive bottle: Feeling somewhat ambivalent and wondering whether you are convincing yourself that you enjoy it so as not to appear uncultured.
Dealing with misinformation, feeling powerless, and slowly getting better together
I thought the article would validate my husband’s experience. That’s why I emailed him the link to the decade-old New York magazine article about his alma mater, the American Boychoir School for vocal prodigies, where alumni from as late as the 1990s estimate that one in five boys were molested. Boys like Travis.
“It used to feel like an isolated incident that affected just me," Trav said.
It was the end of my workday on an October afternoon; I had just set my keys on the kitchen table. My coat was still buttoned.
“Now I know I spent nearly three years of my childhood at a boarding school not just with random pedophiles, but in a culture that allowed it.”
As his wife, how do I respond? That he survived? That he’s brave? That he’s a hero for letting me talk about it? That I will stand beside him with a personal mission and public vow that nobody will ever hurt him, physically or emotionally, again, the way they did during his 30 months as a choirboy from 1988 to 1990?.
On the desperation behind the migrant tragedy in Austria
On Thursday, as Krishnadev Calamur has been tracking in The Atlantic’s new Notes section, Austrian authorities made a ghastly discovery: a truck abandoned in the emergency lane of a highway near the Hungarian border, packed with the decomposing bodies of 59 men, eight women, and four children. They are thoughtto be the corpses of migrants who suffocated to death, perhaps two days earlier, in the bowels of a vehicle whose back door was locked shut and refrigeration and ventilation systems weren’t functional. Stray identity documents suggest that at least some of the victims were Syrian—refugees from that country’s brutal civil war. The truck featured an image of a chicken and a slogan from the Slovakian poultry company that the lorry once belonged to: “I taste so good because they feed me so well.”
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
A new study finds an algorithmic word analysis is flawless at determining whether a person will have a psychotic episode.
Although the language of thinking is deliberate—let me think, I have to do some thinking—the actual experience of having thoughts is often passive. Ideas pop up like dandelions; thoughts occur suddenly and escape without warning. People swim in and out of pools of thought in a way that can feel, paradoxically, mindless.
Most of the time, people don’t actively track the way one thought flows into the next. But in psychiatry, much attention is paid to such intricacies of thinking. For instance, disorganized thought, evidenced by disjointed patterns in speech, is considered a hallmark characteristic of schizophrenia. Several studies of at-risk youths have found that doctors are able to guess with impressive accuracy—the best predictive models hover around 79 percent—whether a person will develop psychosis based on tracking that person’s speech patterns in interviews.
The GOP frontrunner’s surprising staying power has inspired soul-searching and agony among party elites.
What is happening to the Republican Party? I put that question to Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina and basement-dwelling presidential candidate, who was getting ready to hold a campaign event in Hooksett, New Hampshire. “Well, the front-runner is crazy,” Graham said.
He was referring, of course, to Donald Trump, the GOP’s seemingly unstoppable chart-topper, who has survived outrage after outrage that would have ruined a conventional candidate. He commands, on average, double the support, among potential Republican primary voters, of his nearest challenger. Graham—who is running in 15th place—calls him “a huckster billionaire whose political ideas are gibberish.” And while he expects voters eventually to come to their senses, he said, “I think a certain amount of damage has been done already.”
Every time you shrug, you don’t need to Google, then copy, then paste.
Updated, 2:20 p.m.
All hail ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
In its 11 strokes, the symbol encapsulates what it’s like to be an individual on the Internet. With raised arms and a half-turned smile, it exudes the melancholia, the malaise, the acceptance, and (finally) the embrace of knowing that something’s wrong on the Internet and you can’t do anything about it.
As Kyle Chayka writes in a new history of the symbol at The Awl, the meaning of the “the shruggie” is always two, if not three- or four-, fold. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ represents nihilism, “bemused resignation,” and “a Zen-like tool to accept the chaos of universe.” It is Sisyphus in unicode. I use it at least 10 times a day.
For a long time, however, I used it with some difficulty. Unlike better-known emoticons like :) or ;), ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ borrows characters from the Japanese syllabary called katakana. That makes it a kaomoji, a Japanese emoticon; it also makes it, on Western alphabetical keyboards at least, very hard to type. But then I found a solution, and it saves me having to google “smiley sideways shrug” every time I want to quickly rail at the world’s inherent lack of meaning.